Seven essentials for project-based learning
Volume 68 Number 1, September 2010; Pages 34–37
Unless projects are meaningful, engaging and challenging for students they may become just another form of 'busy work'. Good quality project work displays seven features. Firstly it inspires students with a need to know about the topic. Interest can be stimulated through an 'entry event' such as a video, lively discussion or field trip. In contrast, students tend not to be motivated by exhortations of the value of the topic to their future studies, careers or test papers. Secondly, a driving question encapsulates the projects' purpose in a clear and compelling way. The question may be abstract, eg 'when is war justified?', or concrete. The third element is to give students voice and choice, ie options on how to how to pursue the project. The level of choice should be tailored to the particular group of students as well as to the teacher's style. A wide degree of freedom would allow students to decide on the products they create, the resources they need, how they organise their time and even the topic itself. Fourthly, the project should call on students to apply 21st century skills of collaboration, communication and critical thinking, perhaps with supports such as rubrics to measure their group's progress in these skills, and through training in public speaking, perhaps through the development of podcasts or videos. Fifthly, real inquiry and innovation should be required. Rather than reproducing knowledge from books and websites students should have to develop their own questions, search for resources to answer them, test ideas and pose further questions and draw their own conclusions. The sixth component is feedback and revision. Students come to learn that these are typically required for high quality work. Feedback from external experts is particularly valuable. They also learn to critique each other's work. The seventh element is public presentation of the completed work. Presentation to a real audience underlines the work's importance to the student.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Project based learning
Inquiry based learning
Drastic school turnaround strategies are risky
Volume 68 Number 2, October 2010; Pages 78–81
In the USA education systems have increasingly applied 'turnaround strategies' to deal with struggling schools. These 'drastic' strategies, adopted from the business world, involve measures such as the closure of the school; or the dismissal of the principal, of large numbers of teachers or of all school staff. When all staff are replaced the school is said to be 'reconstituted'. Research evidence tells against turnaround strategies. A 2008 study found that such strategies in the business world were ineffective in three out of four instances. Case studies of three reconstituted schools found that replacement of staff 'had little effect on quality, school organisation, or student performance'. The strategy of school closure was investigated in a Chicago study, which found that most of the students moved to other academically poor schools and had not improved their academic performance after one year. A further study examined 45 schools in which management was outsourced to external agencies. Results indicated that gains in student achievement were no greater than in those that remained within the usual education system. The state of Maryland abandoned the use of 'turnaround specialists' after disappointing results while case studies of restructures in six states also showed no gains from them. Successful reform of struggling schools has been associated with a different set of strategies. They involve a careful examination of current conditions at the school; professional development of staff; the joint involvement of teachers and the community in setting goals and monitoring progress toward them; adequate resourcing and 'patience'. While some replacement of staff may be required it should emerge from these measures rather than stand as a strategy in its own right.
Subject HeadingsSchool leadership
From ideal to practice and back again: beginning teachers teaching for social justice
Volume 61 Number 3, 13 May 2010; Pages 237–247
Teacher education in the USA emphasises social justice, but enacting such approaches can be difficult. In order to develop recommendations for improving the social justice component of teacher education programs, the authors examined the perspectives and classroom approaches of three new teachers who identified themselves as being firmly committed to social justice perspectives. All of the teachers sought to engage their students in open dialogue and to address inequalities, and their classrooms often reflected these values. Despite this, the teachers felt a sense of disconnection between their ideals and their actual practice, largely due to the impact of imposed curricula, test-based accountability and the wider school culture. One teacher felt that despite her ongoing willingness to address issues of inequity and injustice what she was doing was 'not enough'. Another shifted her pedagogy to reflect the social justice message put forth by her school's administration and despite engaging her students in a number of valuable projects, felt concerned about how her current approach was not entirely aligned with her beliefs. The third teacher raised concerns about imposing her own values on students, and 'privileging' her own perspectives. These responses highlight a tendency to think of social justice curricular efforts as a 'finished product' rather than a journey. Teacher education programs therefore need to highlight how conceptions of social justice teaching will necessarily change depending on the school context and also as teachers develop over time. Teachers also need to be scaffolded to reflect on their approaches in a positive rather than a critical or disappointed manner. Teacher education programs should also seek to provide teachers with resources they can use to help create lesson plans with a social justice orientation.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
United States of America (USA)
The power of music: its impact on the intellectual, social and personal development of children and young people
Volume 28 Number 3, August 2010; Pages 269–289
Drawing on a range of empirical research, the author examines the effects of music on the intellectual, social and personal development of young people. Active engagement with music can provide opportunities for young children to develop listening and processing skills. This helps improve phonological awareness, which in turn influences reading development. Playing music has also been associated with improved vocabulary development, verbal sequencing and verbal memory, while rhythm-based musical instruction has been found to improve reading comprehension. Music has also been found to influence mathematical achievement, although transfer is only likely to occur when the required skills are similar. One study, for example, found that instrumental music instruction was linked with high achievement in mathematics classes when compared with students not participating in music instruction. Research has also found a link between music and more general intellectual development. Children who had participated in music instruction demonstrated better achievement on spatial, sequencing and memory tests than other children; musicians also demonstrated heightened levels of creativity as well as advanced critical thinking skills. Participation in music instruction has also been associated with general academic achievement, with young musicians receiving higher grades than non-musicians in English, maths, history and science. Links have been found between participation in music and social and personal development, with young musicians tending to demonstrate higher self-esteem, motivation and self-efficacy. Finally, music has also been found to improve physical health and wellbeing; young musicians, for example, tend to have well developed fine motor skills.
Key Learning AreasThe Arts
Volume 9 Number 3, September 2010; Pages 32–35
Three related articles cover issues surrounding the trial of secular ethics classes in NSW schools. Rebecca Leech provides an overview of the facts and issues involved. Laws and policies about religious education are decided by individual Australian states. In NSW relevant legislation is embodied in the Education Act 1990, which draws on earlier laws. The Act provides for 'special religious education', which involves worship and is associated with specific denominations, as opposed to 'general religious education' that covers the history of religions and the concepts associated with them. The Act also requires that schools do not schedule lessons or activities that compete with special education classes, such as formal lessons within the curriculum or classes on general religious education. However, in term 2 this year 10 schools were permitted to trial a course of classes on secular ethics as an alternative to religious education. In the second article Anne Maree Whenman argues that specific classes on ethics are unnecessary since the teaching of ethics is already embedded across the curriculum. While accepting the need to provide useful occupations for students who do not attend scripture classes, she describes the trial as a 'misdirected' way to address this requirement. She is the Chairperson of ICCOREIS, which collaborates with the NSW DET in the management of religious education. The third article, by Teresa Russell, presents a case in support of ethics classes. The author works for the St James Ethics Centre. She argues that scripture classes extend the understanding of ethics that students acquire elsewhere in the curriculum and that ethics classes should be available to perform the same function for students not involved in religious education. She also stresses the issue of parental choice, noting that the ethics course is not designed to eliminate special religious education from schools and that the ethics course was driven in part by the Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations of NSW.
New South Wales (NSW)
How billionaire donors harm public education
19 October 2010
The US education system receives massive donations from philanthropists, sometimes amounting to many millions of dollars. However, the effect of these donations is to aggravate rather than reduce problems in US schooling. Typically, huge donations for schooling are targeted at particular educational causes, such as the movement for semi-independent charter schools and charter school management companies, or to specific strategies such as systems for teacher assessment based on students' scores on standardised tests. As such major philanthropists effectively impose their own policies on schooling in contrast to typical philanthropic contributions to the arts and sciences. Philanthropic funds for schooling does not have to meet evidence-based criteria and the strategies it imposes are often challenged by research findings. For example, the largest study of charter schools found that they tend to perform at the same level as traditional public schools. Most philanthropic funding appears to rest on the concept 'that ''the answer'' is specific and around the corner', in the form of particular measures such as for-profit education, ICT, or fast-tracked teaching courses to provide teachers to struggling schools. In fact the key way forward is to ensure that all public schools are adequately funded. A recent report found that only a small minority of US states 'are positioned relatively well to provide equality of educational opportunity'. The pressing needs of public schools are often met by small, piecemeal actions at the local level.
Subject HeadingsEducation finance
United States of America (USA)
Developing and fostering passion in academic and nonacademic domains
Volume 54 Number 1, January 2010; Pages 18–30
Having passion for an activity or subject can increase motivation and wellbeing, and is often linked with one's identity. Using interviews, the authors examined how passion for learning manifested among 25 students identified as academically gifted, and how passion for the arts or athletics manifested among 41 students who were deemed talented in these areas. Passion was more evident in those participating in nonacademic activities, with those who were passionate about a given activity speaking of wanting to do it all the time, often becoming so involved in the activity that they lost track of time, receiving an emotional release from the activity and considering it an important part of their identity. In contrast, passion for learning or schoolwork was rarely experienced by the gifted students. Unlike the students from the talented sample, these students tended to be more extrinsically motivated, focusing more generally on being a good student or being smart rather than on more intrinsic motivations. While some students had a strong interest in a particular area of study, few spoke about these interests in the same manner as students from the talent sample spoke of their participation in the arts or sports. Factors that may have influenced the incidence of passion among the two groups include the fact that non-academic activities such as sports and the arts are voluntary rather than mandated, as well as the encouragement that students participating in these activities received. Moreover, where the talented students felt encouraged to improve their skills and seek domain mastery, the gifted students often felt bored and unchallenged, and the school context seemed to undermine rather than support their desire to learn. The responses highlight the need to encourage and motivate students in the academic domain by creating a challenging and intellectually stimulating environment, incorporating outside interests and future plans, creating a more supportive social context, and giving students more choice in their learning.
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
Gifted and talented (GAT) children
Challenges to conceptualizing and actualizing culturally relevant pedagogy: how viable is the theory in classroom practice?
Volume 61 Number 3, May 2010; Pages 248–260
Culturally relevant pedagogy is seen as an effective way of engaging students from diverse backgrounds. However, it is often defined and implemented in a range of different ways. In this article the author uses Ladson-Billings's definition of culturally relevant pedagogy, which incorporates academic success, cultural competence and socio-political consciousness. Using meetings, interviews and observations, the author worked with a group of eight experienced teachers from an inner-city school in the north-eastern USA to help them define, implement and assess culturally relevant pedagogy. Interviews with the teachers indicated that their conceptions of culturally relevant pedagogy strongly emphasised the notion of cultural competence, with the teachers highlighting the need to understand their students and be aware of their cultural identities. However, little mention was made of academic success and/or of the need to engage with socio-political ideas or issues of social equality. Following the interviews, the author worked with the teachers to apply culturally relevant pedagogy to lesson planning by adapting lessons to deal with socio-political concerns and to incorporate students' identities. Some of the teachers were concerned that addressing socio-political issues could be perceived by students as an 'ideological imposition', while others were concerned about whether the students were mature enough to deal with such issues. The teachers also expressed concerns about incorporating such approaches into an already full curriculum that demanded teachers cover large amounts of material in order to perform well on high-stakes tests. Culturally relevant pedagogy was seen as appropriate for teachable moments rather than part of day-to-day instruction in core content areas. However, over the course of the project, some teachers did begin to incorporate culturally relevant approaches into their teaching. The project highlights the need for teachers to be equipped with the skills to transform the theory of culturally relevant pedagogy into practice.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Social life and customs
Capital, culture and community: understanding school engagement in a challenging context
Volume 13 Number 1, March 2010; Pages 21–38
Engaging both students and the wider school community can help improve outcomes. Drawing on interviews, observations and documents, the author examines the impact of an ongoing research project aimed at improving engagement at a Scottish secondary school serving a significantly disadvantaged population. The school placed substantial emphasis on developing its local reputation in order to gain the confidence of parents and attract students in addition it worked closely with local primary schools and community groups. It worked to build cohesion among the highly heterogeneous student body by encouraging participation in clubs and activities. Efforts were also made to develop positive staff–student relationships, which had the effect of combating truancy and encouraging academic success. These approaches were designed to help students and their families to build their cultural capital in order to help them experience success within the boundaries of the educational system. Additionally, the school sought to challenge entrenched attitudes relating to schoolwork, behaviour, and student and parental ambitions. Students appreciated being challenged and having an active role in their learning and often associated success at school with attitude, choice and maturity. However, the realities of students' difficult economic circumstances were often evident, with students juggling roles as carers as well as part-time work and the need to make important career decisions upon reaching school-leaving age. The school worked to address these challenges by offering a strong pastoral care program, a nurture group for younger students as well as after-school and study skills classes. Parents also participated in workshops designed to help them support their children's learning. While such efforts to engage students and the wider school community can improve student outcomes, they are extremely demanding in terms of time, staffing and resources; the difficulty in securing these can potentially undermine engagement programs.
Subject HeadingsSchool culture
School and community
Building bridges: designing shared-resource schools
Volume 9 Number 1, March 2010; Pages 8–13
A recently developed pilot program, Local Schools Working Together, aims to fund 25 projects around Australia that involve collaboration and the sharing of facilities between schools in different sectors. Historically there has been little sharing of resources between schools in Australia's three sectors. Most of the sharing that has taken place has occurred through a 'unique or special opportunity'. These cases have usually involved libraries or science laboratories. The new project will cover facilities for wider purposes including the performing arts and language teaching. It will help to overcome obstacles that might otherwise prevent the creation of new facilities such as capital costs, limited usage by a particular school or planning difficulties. The program invites a school to take the role of lead partner and invite other local schools to collaborate, after which the schools would seek endorsement from their local council. Participating schools also need to seek advice from their own education authority. Funding provided by the program is an incentive for schools to commit themselves to a significant level of collaboration with schools of 'a different faith, or social or economic standing, or size'. Such collaboration also has the potential to 'break down barriers and prejudice', although some religious denominations are hesitant to commit too deeply to sharing with other school cultures due to the desire to protect their own religious character. See also the recent article by one of the authors, Clare Newton, in Curriculum Leadership 17 September 2010.
Subject HeadingsEducational planning
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